Sunday, July 15, 2007

Book Review: The Nazi Officer's Wife

July 15, 2007

Subtitled "How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust," this memoir is the story of the author's life prior to the Holocaust and then during the war, as she became a "U-boat": an Austrian Jew who went underground and emerged in Munich as an Aryan. Author Edith Hahn Beer chronicles the amazing years of survival that demanded her to shed her former identity and live and work side-by-side with the despised Nazis.

The book starts with a slice of her life in Germany as a Red Cross nurse known as "Grete" and then tells the story of her previous life in Vienna, where she was just one examination away from becoming a lawyer before the Gestapo forced her family into the ghetto. Until the time when she received the yellow star on her chest, she hardly thought of herself as Jewish. "I think my father knew how to be Jewish, but he did not teach us. He must have thought we would absorb it with our mother's milk." Later in the book she describes one Hanukkah at the labor camp, when she and her fellow workers decided to make a menorah. "But then, to our horror, we found not one of us knew the prayer--not one. Can you imagine? To be so bereft, so ignorant of our own culture, our own liturgy! This was the legacy of our assimilated life in Vienna."

Edith spends a year in a labor camp and is then due to be deported. She decides then that she will risk capture to stay with her fiance in Vienna, and she rips off her yellow star and goes into hiding. Eventually her boyfriend, out of terror, ends things with her, and she flees to Munich with a new identity. Once in Germany, she takes on a whole new self.

This book, which was on my list for Semicolon's Saturday Book Review challenge, is heartwrenching and fascinating. She is a powerful writer and succeeds in relating to the reader how people will do impossible things to survive and to protect those they love.

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